Many hours are spent with men, how many with your Maker? – Spurgeon
Remember the days of being a kid, getting home from school, and going to play with your friends outside. For a lot of people, your biggest worry was probably if you were going to grab your bike or your skateboard. It was tough managing your bike riding time with your math homework time. Then you got a little older and you had to balance more important schoolwork with after school activities or athletics and maybe even college applications. Then you got to college and you discovered this new freedom – you get to make your own schedule – you controlled your time. But between classes, “social outings”, and all those research papers there just wasn’t enough time in the day – in fact, your days usually blended late into the nights – maybe you even pulled a few all-nighters. Then you graduated and became an adult and, if you moved out of your parents’ house, you started to experience “real life” – well as real as you’ve experienced so far. Life seems to just get busier and busier. You have real responsibilities during the day at your job. You come home exhausted – just wanting to relax. But the house isn’t going to clean itself. The food isn’t going to magically appear. At home, you now have to do for yourself everything you took for granted growing up. And that’s just the basics – the physical stuff. Who knows what other emotional or health issues you’ve got going that make it hard to get all that stuff done. If you had a life where you practically ran the family – than you probably know this all too well by now. It probably just gets busier as you get older. The point is: life is busy. Life is hard. Every stage of life presents it’s own unique challenges and responsibilities. I think we can all agree on that. There are enough pressing details that you HAVE to get done – any spiritual aspect seems to get pushed to the “when I have time” category.
Make time for God? Obviously.
When I was younger I distinctly remember many sermons at church where the pastors would implore us to “make time for God.’ To make time to pray. To make time to read and study the scripture. As teenager with few true responsibilities, I always thought to myself, “make time?” How busy can you be that you need to set aside time to pray? It only takes a few minutes to read a devotional. Geez, pastors must be busy people. Fast forward to today – and nothing could be more relevant than intentionally making time for God. Just saying that troubles me – make time for God? The God who brought this earth into existence and who sent His Son to die on the cross to be a sacrifice for my sins – He simply wants me to include Him in my day – to worship and glorify Him – and like, talk to Him? That’s the least I could do… yet I can’t always find the time in the schedule that I’ve created for myself.
Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church, says this about creating space:
Breathing room is the space between our current pace and our ultimate limits. When there’s no breathing room there’s more stress – there’s more anxiety. When there’s no breathing room you get hyper focused on 2 or 3 things and you exclude other things that are important. When there’s no breathing room relationships always suffer.
Gleaning: from crops to your life
In Biblical times there was an agricultural term called “gleaning”. Gleaning was the act of collecting crops that were left over after farmers harvested as well as crops on the outskirts of the fields. It was an early form of a welfare system.
Leviticus 19:9-10 instructs farmers to leave some crop for the poor and those from out of town:
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21 backs this up:
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.
In an agrarian culture, farmers relied on every bit of their crop to provide the livelihood for their families and community. Allowing the poor to glean their fields was something that would take food off their table. It’s like taxes being taken out of our paychecks today – except this was a command of God. Now on one hand this was done to literally support the poor and needy. But couldn’t it also have been to increase the faith of the farmers and build their dependency and reliance on God to provide for them?
I think we can learn something from this gleaning model in relation to how we fill our time. Like the farmers of the Old Testament who didn’t harvest every last bit of crop but sacrificed for the poor and needy and trusted God to provide, we really need to create space in our lives and trust God in the gaps of our life. We need to stop filling every single minute of our day with things, events, and activities. Whether we are just so busy because life is busy or we’re trying to keep busy because we think (falsely) that it makes us more holy. When we are grasping at something, our hands aren’t open to receive what God may have for us. We need to create space, not only in our schedules, but also in our hearts for God to work through us. This isn’t just a clever thought: this is truth. I’ve seen it work first hand in my life.
Creating space: as an act of faith (or lack thereof)
In the past I had experienced the loss of a relationship that meant the world to me. It severed the path that I believed God was leading me down. As a person who usually doesn’t mind doing things on my own (and often enjoys it), I now found myself, almost instinctively (as the world suggests), filling my schedule – literally to the point where I was only ever home to sleep. I had dinners and lunches and outings with people of present and past while also creating new relationships. I did have some amazing conversations – especially some real spirit-led talks.
I was using the hour long commutes to and from work to listen to sermon podcasts – everyday. Just trying to absorb anything God might be trying to teach me. It was great. But it was a one way conversation. I had no time in the rest of my day to reflect and respond to God, personally. I was listening – but wasn’t really talking.
I took a trip out to Vegas, California, and The Grand Canyon (it was an idea from months ago, yes, but this recent experience was a catalyst to actually doing it at the last minute). I was at one of the 7 wonders of the world thinking to myself, “what am I doing here?” I was running – to the other side of the United States – trying to fill my own time to distract myself. But still, there, God gently nudged me.
I treated all these things as blessings and I was thankful to God for providing all these people and opportunities in my life. But something was missing. This sort of schedule was only maintainable for a time and it was wearing me out.
One day, by the grace of God it just clicked. I was filling my time to avoid having to deal with the real issues at hand. None of the things I was doing were inherently “wrong”. In fact, they were all great things that would have been amazing things if God was the focus. I was controlling what I’d let affect me by essentially not making any room for God to speak into the things I needed to hear.
As I reflected back I realized that fear drove me to jam pack my schedule. I can only surmise that I didn’t have faith that God would protect me from going to dark places or give me the strength to be alone with my thoughts. By filling my time with “good things” and people, I thought I was doing myself a favor. But that’s often the case with things we need to cut back on (whether that’s people, things, or control). In many cases the “good” things are the things we need to keep in check.
Of course, I then had to deal with the issues I had suppressed for weeks. But, in His mercy, God presented opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and share my faith and do things that, a month earlier, I wouldn’t have thought of doing. So while I was struggling, I was simultaneously seeing His hands visibly at work in other areas of my life. The things He placed on my heart allowed me to persevere with hope.
Chris August’s “The Upside of Down” is a beautifully simple revelation of how God generally works – and how things worked for me:
In the midst of this sadness I’m closer to You now
And that’s the upside of down, the upside of down
It’s all switched around, I lost and I found
The upside of down
That’s the upside of tragedies knowing You’re holding my heart always, always
I may be down but I’m finding there’s joy in the pain, in the pain
I’m thankful for the pain because being low forced me to look up and realize that I wasn’t where God wanted me. I’m not the same person I was 5 months ago. Did things magically go away and get better? No. But I didn’t completely wallow in my sadness, I did something with it. I built relationship with others. I served in little ways. I became much more active in the church. I seeked and I followed – by making time and space in my life – and especially in my heart – for God.
Matthew 6:33 says:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
When I gave up some control of my time and heart to God by seeking His heart, I received a recognizable peace – almost immediately. Not a peace that “made everything okay”… but a peace that there was a purpose in the pain and confusion. There were things I desperately needed to be shown about myself that couldn’t have been revealed any other way. But it didn’t end at just having this “peace”… It was time to use this new heart and fervor to seek God in faith, and see where He would lead. Soon there after, I struggled with wanting to just jump into something drastic and crazy – so outside of myself to live a reckless life of faith… But God softly reeled me back in and showed me that I needed more time to be refined – to discern what HIS will was for me. This season was (and still is – and maybe always will be – in a way) a time to make some space in my life for God to do His thing!
How am I supposed to make space?
There are so many things that consume our days – things we need to do – things that aren’t even necessarily “bad”. How do we do it all? This is a discussion in itself. It’s a topic in which I sure haven’t found the answer. My point in this post, more or less, is to become more cognizant of how we spend our time – even when we are doing “good” things. Learn your limits: to know when you have to say “no”. It’s a dilemma. We know that cramming our schedules full of stuff isn’t good for our well-being – neither our health nor our spirituality. On the other hand, this is very much counter-cultural. The world tells us to keep busy – live life today like it is our last day. Cast our net and see what we can get. I believe that does more harm to ourselves and to those we may be serving – specifically with regards to the church and our witness to others.
If we truly “live everyday like it is our last”, well, than how much would we actually get done – and done well? Personally, if I were to live today like there was no tomorrow, I’d buy a motorcycle and just start driving across the country until my arms were no longer able to keep me sitting up. But I’d be leaving all the responsibilities I have here and the people that, in some way, rely on me, behind. I wouldn’t be very useful.
I think a lot of people mistakenly equate being busy in church as being a good “God” thing. The more ministries you’re involved with the better. As Christians, we are certainly called to actively serve God and God’s people. But how effective are we? How truly invested are we in the people we serve and fellowship with?
I’m hesitant to suggest that we approach opportunities to serve Christ “strategically” (that’s such a businessesy type word). Everyone is called differently. But in a way that might be what we have to do – perhaps “thoughtfully” may be a better word. Prayerfully consider how your service would be a benefit to others – do your skills truly lend themselves to the opportunity? Are you doing it to serve others? Or is it to fulfill your personal desires and dreams. Maybe those desires align with God’s will. How much of what you are doing is actually trying to fill a gap in your life versus God’s calling on your life? Is there another area, perhaps less desirable, but more beneficial that you could serve? Do you truly have the time? Will other areas in your life suffer? Should you be focusing on those other current areas? Rather than having your hand in 5 different things and doing them all mediocrely should you focus on 1 or 2 things and really make an impact? And then tackle the next 1 or 2 things? I believe stepping back and consciously evaluating yourself will beneficial. Don’t let yourself go unchecked so that one day you find yourself in a place where you’re trying to be a part of every opportunity – burnt out and not useful. Bring in others – get some accountability. Seek wise counsel and share your hearts desires with them. Don’t go through life alone.
Matthew 6:34 is one of the most quoted verses in regards to anxiety and worrying – it’s so obvious – yet why can’t we rest more in it’s truth?:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Sidewalk Prophets – Help Me Find It
If there’s a road I should walk
Help me find it
If I need to be still
Give me peace for the moment
Whatever Your will
Can you help me find it
While you’re waiting, make time to listen to God. Study His Word. Pray. Share your desires with Him. Ask for clarity in discerning His will. Be a part of a community of believers – of encouragers – of people who will keep you accountable. Don’t get stuck in the details to where you’re not doing anything. Keep your eyes open for opportunities in your life outside of what you thought you wanted. I know that my life has been positively affected by many people through the years who consciously made time to listen to God and follow His will for their lives. That could be you and I – for the next generation…
Whether you’re just busy in life because it’s just a season of your life or you’re trying to be busy to suppress pain, I hope that you can find peace in resting on God to sustain your needs. As you patiently figure out practical ways of your own to make space for God to work in you I pray that you would have faith that God will be faithful in providing in the areas of your life that you are trying to cram everything into.
Dream bigger. Start smaller. Enjoy the adventure.
In the spirit of “making time” – this post was first conceived over a month ago. It’s hard. I know.
I was originally going to title this “Breathing & Gleaning” – which I figured would draw some questions and prompt people to read further.. But then I thought it might be so obscure that I qualified it a bit for clarity/direction and titled it “”Breathing & Gleaning: Creating Space”. Then I decided to just pay homage to my favorite internet meme – Sweet Brown.